Researchers have found that women are three times more likely than men to suffer migraines, which can last for up to three days and lead to vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise.
Sex differences in migraine prevalence have been recognised for centuries, but researchers are beginning to understand the factors that put women at greater risk and how they can prevent them.
Women, you can blame hormones – namely, oestrogen — for your headache woes. Fluctuating oestrogen levels can contribute to the development of chronic headaches or migraines.
Northwestern Medicine neurologist Charulatha Nagar explains that “in childhood, migraines are more prevalent in boys. But once the influence of oestrogen begins, that’s when the prevalence starts to rise in females.”
This, she says, provides a basic understanding of why headaches are more common, longer-lasting and occur more frequently in women.
The 2018 study published in the journal “Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences”, showed the results of laboratory and animal experiments suggest changing levels of the female sex hormone oestrogen make cells around a key nerve in the head and connected blood vessels more sensitive to migraine triggers. And that increases migraine risk.
“We can observe significant differences in our experimental migraine model between males and females, and are trying to understand the molecular correlates responsible for these differences,” study co-author Antonio Ferrer-Montiel said.
Dr Earim Chaudry, of the men’s health platform Manual, explained that “chemical activity in your brain can cause headaches. It is often the nerves or blood vessels surrounding your skull, or the muscles of your head and neck that can play a role in causing headaches”.
Chaudry said there were several common causes of headaches, including emotional stress, infections, fever, head colds and dehydration. “Fortunately, there are also several ways headaches can be eased, treated, and even prevented,” he added.
Here are Chaudry’s tips and tricks on preventing and relieving headaches and migraines.
Improve your posture
Poor posture can trigger headaches. Tension in your upper back, neck and shoulders can lead to a headache and typically, the pain throbs in the base of the skull and sometimes flashes into the face, especially the forehead.
Avoid slumping, sitting in one position for a long period of time, and take short, regular walks.
Don’t skip meals
“If you are skipping meals for a long period, this can cause your blood sugar levels to drop. In response to this, your body will release a hormone that signals your brain you’re hungry and these same hormones can increase your blood pressure and tighten your blood vessels, triggering a headache, ” said Chaudry.
Take hourly breaks when staring at a screen
Staring at bright screens all day will lead to eye strain, blurred vision and long-term vision problems.
“The brain is channeled to direct the eye muscles to constantly readjust focus between the RPA (resting point accommodation — the distance at which the eyes focus when there is nothing to focus on) and the front of the screen.
Channelling where our eyes want to focus and where they should be focusing can lead to eye strain and eye fatigue, both of which can trigger a headache,” explained Chaudry.
“Screens also emit blue light, which disrupts our circadian rhythms at night when we’re trying to fall asleep. Lack of sleep is also a trigger for tiredness, causing headaches.
“If you find you are affected by prolonged periods of screen time, blue-light-blocking products such as eyewear and screen protectors will help to reduce symptoms of blue-light exposure such as headaches, eye irritation, and fatigue,” he said.
Avoid certain foods and drinks
There are several foods and drinks that can contribute to headaches, particularly migraines.
These include processed foods that contain nitrates, aged cheeses, pickled and fermented foods, salty foods, caffeine, alcohol, chocolate and artificial sweeteners.
All of the listed food and drinks contain certain chemicals that trigger functions in your body that can cause headaches.
For example, salty processed foods can increase blood pressure, causing headaches or migraine attacks.
Take pain relievers
Pain relievers work with your cells, your body’s nerve endings, your nervous system, and your brain to prevent you from feeling the pain.
Studies show aspirin to be the best over the counter medication for relieving pain, and ibuprofen is also an effective method of pain relief.
Taking painkillers without food can irritate the stomach lining, so it is best to take them with food or a glass of milk.
If you find that you are suffering from severe headaches, or headaches for several days in a row, consult your GP.
“Exercise helps to keep the body and mind healthy and promote better circulation, which can reduce the chances of triggering a headache,” said Chaudry.
“Regular, moderate exercise will help, such as briskly walking or riding a bike for 30 minutes a day, particularly outdoors to get fresh air into the body.”— IOL